40 Years in the Making: Redblacks Win Grey Cup!
Image courtesy of Ottawa Redblacks.
The detractors will inevitably give excuses of varying degrees of legitimacy — Ottawa’s losing regular-season record, Calgary slotback Marquay McDaniel’s first-quarter injury, etc. — but it matters not.
The Ottawa REDBLACKS triumphed on Sunday night in front of a sold-out crowd at Toronto’s BMO Field, edging the powerhouse Calgary Stampeders 39-33 in overtime.
The city’s first Grey Cup since 1976 was delivered in a fashion that reflected the trying last 40 years for Ottawa football fans. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest of championships — a hairy fourth quarter built on a nervous East Division final built on an unsteady regular season — but when it mattered most, the REDBLACKS came through.
Despite losing a 20-point second-half lead on Sunday, Ottawa showed its resiliency, just as its fans did three years ago in returning to the Lansdowne seats after suffering through some very, very lean years of football in the nation’s capital.
It was the kind of victory that immediately brought on story time, whether it was in the Twittersphere or at sports bars across the city. Tales from 1976 — and earlier — echoed as people placed their heroes of yesteryear next to the city’s newly-minted champions. Names like Ernest Jackson, who bobbled and eventually hauled in the eventual game-winning score, and Henry Burris, the charismatic, 41 year-old gunslinger fighting against time.
The latter’s performance was nothing short of remarkable. After a mixed bag of results throughout 2016, Burris — who has been playing professional football longer than a small but significant portion of REDBLACKS fans have been alive — put in his best shift of the season on Sunday when it mattered the most.
It was a remarkable win based on the sheer numbers entering the Grey Cup. At 15-2-1, the Stampeders’ starters hadn’t lost a game since Week 1 and appeared, understandably, as a nine- or ten-point favourite depending on the market. At 8-9-1, and having nearly fallen to Edmonton in the East Division’s snow bowl of a final the week before, few pundits and experts were giving Ottawa much of a chance.
But Ottawa raced out to a 20-7 lead at the half, having beaten Calgary in every phase and shaken the confidence of star Stampeder quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. The CFL’s best regular season team stormed back in the second half, with Mitchell, running back Jerome Messam and co. battling back to improbably tie the game at 33.
Had there been a few more minutes on the clock, Calgary likely would have continued their second-half roll and claimed the championship that many — including myself — had already given them prior to kick-off.
But it wasn’t meant to be for the Stampeders; this was the REDBLACKS’ night, and following Jackson’s overtime touchdown, Calgary’s offence never moved from the Ottawa 35-yard line.
Much will be written in the coming days. Stories of nostalgia, of former players wrestling with their scars from their own championships, of the deeper meaning of sport.
But what must be written today is the fact that Ottawa, for the first time in nearly two generations, is a championship football town.
Its fans have been all along.